An auspicious debut with the sense of a pull toward cult greatness.
Alex Tudor 2009-11-09
It’s a risky business covering a classic song by a great band, especially one with the emotional resonance of Ceremony by Joy Division. Overproduced pop bands find themselves insulting the fans, while wannabe-mainstream indie bands expose their lack of original tunes and production.
Pascal Babare, on the other hand, is an indier-than-indie, lo-fi minimalist whose field recordings and ambient sounds are often as prominent as his shuffling percussion, gently strummed guitars, creaking harmonium, and plangent vocals. By choosing Ceremony he doesn’t just evoke the sensitive, emotional side of Joy Division, but even more strongly evokes fellow fans like Xiu Xiu, Codeine, and Low (stars in this writer’s personal firmament), who each brought a naturalism to the songs they covered, and found the pastoral, calm centre in the turmoil of a band often characterized as urban, proto-industrial, bleak, and nihilistic.
Babare was born in Australia, raised in ashrams, and has arrived in London by way of Japan, aged 19. The prevailing mood of his debut album is a peaceful, albeit wistful evocation of misted hyperboreal forests, and – since he mentions it – an idealised version of commune lifestyle, tepees and jam-sessions among the trees. Many of the individual tunes are so subtle that they don’t impinge any more than their neighbours, but the flipside of that is: Thunderclap Spring works as a suite you want to hear in its entirety. Penultimate track Sweet Bees, Brother Bear does stand out, with its loose, powerful drumming, and leads into the gorgeously short-and-sweet Lanterns whose double-tracked vocals and refrain of “if we go / we all go together…” make it the most understated sing-along album-closer ever.
In its unity this feels greater than the sum of its parts, making it an auspicious debut. As latter-day hippie whimsy goes, there’s more of a comparison to the serenity of Taken by Trees than Devendra Banhart’s occasionally cloying silliness, but there’s also the sense of a pull toward cult greatness, just as there was on Banhart’s early records.